E-Verify, Guest Worker Program, H-2A, Legislation, Undocumented Workers

Bramble Proposes Guest-Worker Program Changes

From SLTrib.com, The Salt Lake Tribune, Robert Gehrke, 8 Jun 2011.

The architect of Utah’s polarizing immigrant guest-worker program is proposing a series of changes to the law that narrows who might be eligible and could make it tougher for people to qualify.

The “clarifications” — as Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, calls them — come as the backlash over HB116 threatens to fuel a resolution among Republican state delegates demanding the repeal of the law. A vote is expected at the June 18 GOP State Convention.

The proposed amendments range from expanding checks of tax ID numbers to requiring grown children of undocumented immigrants to pass a background check in order to qualify for a family guest-worker permit.

Bramble said he has discussed the revisions with the governor’s office and other groups and plans to introduce them during the next legislative session.

He appears to have the support of House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.

She said she has no problems with any of Bramble’s proposed changes.

“Very rarely do we have perfect legislation, if ever, so it’s not surprising that we would readdress it,” Lockhart said. “We’ve listened to constituents and interested parties who have some concerns, who would like to see it strengthened, [and] more clarity to what exactly does it mean.”

But some lawmakers who favor a tougher approach to immigration enforcement are wary.

“I’d have to sit down and look at it, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. At this point it’s not something I’d sign off on,” said Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, who fought against HB116 and said he still would have questions about the constitutionality of the law.

Bramble’s is just one of the proposals that are expected to be on the table, including a push by the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think-tank, to overhaul the law, and an effort by opponents of HB116 to repeal the law or change it to stiffen fines and narrow who could qualify.

“At least there’s a dialogue going to make it better. That’s what gives me hope,” said Herrod.

The law passed by the Legislature last winter and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert has a delayed implementation date of July 1, 2013, or 120 days after a federal waiver is granted to the state. Bramble’s proposal would change the law in several ways before it ever took effect. He would require an applicant for a guest-worker permit to continuously “have an established domicile” in the state prior to May 10, 2011, rather than just “live in” the state before the date. That could make it more difficult for an itinerant farm worker to qualify for a permit.

“This wouldn’t necessarily preclude the agricultural worker, but it would have to be someone who is already here and intends to stay here,” Bramble said. The individual would have to have a home mortgage or a long-term lease to qualify.

The existing law requires guest-worker applicants to have medical insurance and would deny a permit to any applicant who has medical debt. Bramble’s changes would disqualify only workers who have debt that they are “not actively working to resolve.”

The change would require individuals applying for a guest-worker permit to submit all of the tax ID numbers they have used and consent to the state obtaining all of the tax ID numbers an employer has submitted to the IRS, similar to the agreement people sign when they apply for a mortgage.

That allows the state to find out if an applicant has ever used a stolen identification number to get a job, which would disqualify the applicant and allow the information to be turned over to law enforcement.

Any child age 16 or over who is part of a family applying for a permit would have to be subjected to the same background check his or her parents have to undergo to obtain a work permit.

“We expected this bill was going to be a way to ferret out those who had committed identity fraud,” Bramble said. “We wanted to say, ‘Look, there is no free pass.’ ”

And finally, proceeds from fines assessed against undocumented immigrants applying for a work permit can go to enforcement efforts or to compensate victims of identity theft. Bramble would allow the fund to be used for education, health care and immigration law enforcement costs.

Herrod said he thinks HB116 still has major problems and needs to be repealed and replaced with a new bill. One thing he would like to see is an immediate requirement that all businesses, no matter what size, use E-Verify to check the legal status of workers. Currently, only businesses with 15 or more workers have to use the E-Verify system.

Source: SLTrib.com, The Salt Lake Tribune, “Bramble proposes guest-worker program changes” by Robert Gehrke, 8 Jun 2011.

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